Jonathan White, Biophysics

How the Heart Knows to Become the Heart

All cells in developing embryo must decide what kind of adult cell to become. They decide depending on what molecular factors they inherit from their mothers and what signals they receive from their neighbors. We study how cells in developing tunicates, barnacle-like creatures that are close cousins to the vertebrates, decide to become the heart.  Half their daughter cells inherit all of a certain type of receptor which allows them to hear the signal to become the heart, a call their sisters are deaf to. To figure out how the founder cells move their receptors I took videos of dividing mother cells. Understanding how tunicate hearts decide their fate will help medical researchers find treatments for diseases that arise from errors in cell communication.